A biography of the Rockefeller patriarch. It’s a messy book, but then it was also a messy 97 year-long life. A few highlights:

  • He benefited from starting his business, unencumbered by monetary or ideological debt, just when one of the greatest technological leaps of human history occurred. What got him all that money was luck and ruthlessness more than business acumen (what others thought) and religious zeal/hand of God (what he thought). His subsequent mostly failed business ventures confirm this.
  • Even so, it is his religion that led him to become the world’s greatest philanthropist, and also set up a template for modern billionaires on how to donate most of their fortune formally and on a grand scale. Yay for religion, then?
  • Rockefeller’s company Standard Oil and other trusts emerged at a time when legislature couldn’t keep up with rapidly evolving technologies; by the time laws caught up, it didn’t matter. Private data and human attention are 21st century oil.
  • You also have corrupt politicians, populist presidents, and progressive and gender/racially sensitive (dare I say woke) but ineffective intelligentsia. It all seems very familiar.
  • A search for “John D Rockefeller” on youtube brings mostly conspiracy videos and hilarious reenactments. I did find one video of the man himself in which he looks eerily like my grandmother.

Written by Ron Chernow, 2004